In the month of August 2018, I got an opportunity to visit a fairly unique place in North Sikkim called Dzongu. Tourists hardly talk about it and it stays hidden while in Sikkim. Why? Because even Sikkimese need a permit to enter this area.
Dzongu, a place specially restricted for the Lepchas community is a hub of history and culture. If you are here, you can understand Sikkim a little more and understand the indigenous peoples better. Below, I will talk about how exactly the Lepcha community is and everything you need to know about Dzongu.
Who are Lepchas?
Lepchas are also known as Rongkup. Earlier it was believed that the meaning of this word is “nonsense talkers”. They are inhabitants of Sikkim, however, their traces are also found in Tibet.
The history of Lepchas is obscure, mostly because they liked to live in isolation. Going back to the start of times, which is how the Lepchas community was born, Itbu-mu, the mother creator made Earth and everything on it – from lakes to mountains/animals that inhabit the Earth. She then took snow from Kanchenjunga and converted it to a human called Fudong-thing. From his bones, Itbu-mu made a woman called Nuzong Nyu.
Fudong-thing and Nuzong Nyu were commanded to be brother and sister, however, both of them had sexual relations which cursed them to leave their home only to send them to the mundane world. The children of Fudong-thing and Nuzong Nyu were born and they became the ancestors of Lepcha community.
What is Dzongu and how do you get there
In the North of Sikkim, there is a vast triangular region which is bordered by Teesta river at one side and Kanchenjunga ranges on the other. This area is dedicated and reserved for the Lepcha community.
To reach Dzongu, you have to cross the Teesta river. There are two entry points for Dzongu, one in the lower region and the other one in the upper. The entry point in the lower region is near Dikchu and in the upper region, it is Sankalang or Sungklong. Earlier, one could travel from Lower to Upper Dzongu directly, however, in 2016 a landslide occurred which was so fierce that the flow of Teesta river changed. This damaged the only bridge that connected both the regions, leading to the cut off of Upper Dzongu from the mainland. Thus, now to enter the Upper Dzongu region one can only do so through Sankalang or Sungklongentry points.
There is another bridge, however, in Mangan. Over here, one has to park their vehicle at one side of the bridge and after crossing the bridge, another vehicle needs to be taken till Tingvong or Lingzya villages.
The locals believe that the upcoming hydel projects on the Teesta are what is destroying the natural habitat. Due to this, there has been cold strife between the authorities and the Lepcha.
Things to do at Dzongu or Places to see at Dzongu
Hee Gyathang Monastery
Lying in the lower region of Dzongu, there is a monastery that can only be reached through a hike. Hee Gyathang Monastery is 100 years’ old that was destroyed in September 2011 by an earthquake. The monastery was built again with the help of steel actions that was carried by 20 men piece by piece.
The place is very peaceful and one can see distant peaks even more clearly as you move up towards this monastery.
Dzongu is so quiet and secluded that to actually understand the culture and history of Lepchas the best is to walk from one village to another. You will be surrounded by butterflies and greenery. The entire village is so serene and decorated with nothing but nature. You can also discover plantations and walk through the lush bamboo grooves.
Walk on the Bridges
Many villages in Dzongu are connected through wooden bridges. There are so many walk-throughs to the lush bamboo grooves. Further, as I mentioned above do walk on the Mangan bridge that connects Lower Dzongu to Upper Dzongu. The locals call the nearby place a beach as you can find sand here and have your own picnic.
Organic Food & Local Liquor Tasting
People in Dzongu are self-sufficient. They have their own organic farms and grow their own vegetables and crops. Everything that you will taste in Dzongu is locally grown and they still cook in a traditional manner. They use log fire with spices, and oil used for cooking is next to none.
Further, even the local liquors (millet beers) are quite popular. The hotel we were staying at kept it as well. They served the liquor to us in bamboo mugs. Although the alcohol seemed colourless its taste was pungent.
From Lower Dzongu, once you move to the landslide-prone area and cross the region, you will find two cabins – one for male and another one for females. The hot sulphur spring is considered to have medicinal qualities and healing powers.
Permits for Dzongu
To enter Dzongu, not only other tourists but also the Sikkimese need a permit. Dzongu is a restricted area. One can get a permit easily. All you need to do is to submit the scanned or photographed copies of any identity proof and a passport size picture. You can send these to your homestay owner who can get the permission obtained for you.
The fee for the permit is INR 150/- per person and the office is situated in the DC office at Mangan.
Where to Stay in Dzongu – Accommodation
We stayed in a beautiful resort called Munlom Nature Resort in Gyathang Village which lies in Lower Dzongu. The place is so beautiful and made of bamboos. The exact location is in Gyathang Village of Dzongu. The speciality of this place is its local wine along with the cuisine.
The Hee Gyathang Monastery is close by to this homestay and the owners here are very kind. In fact, you won’t be able to guess the age of the owner, Kim J.
Despite being in such a remote area, the Internet connection is good. Vodafone and BSNL work the best, however. You will also find several business centres and provision stores.
Further, Mangan village, a small town which is 25 km away, has all the facilities such as petrol pump, hospital, collectorate offices, wine shops and mediocre restaurants. It also has ATM facilities, although it is always better to withdraw the cash in Gangtok or Siliguri itself.